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Penguins go on the defensive



Published: Sun, February 9, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



YSU signed three area seniors on a defense-heavy recruiting class.

By BRIAN RICHESSON

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

YOUNGSTOWN -- A brisk wind blew over the snow-covered turf of Stambaugh Stadium. Championship seasons are born out of times like this.

High atop the Ice Castle, Youngstown State football coach Jon Heacock, dressed in a sharp suit and tie, pondered over a list of 17 recruits added to the program Wednesday.

The list numbered 16 until Heacock, moments after speaking at a signing-day press conference, blurted out, "Massucci just signed."

This is recruiting season, when hopes are high and player signatures mean so much.

Off-season battles

"You win some and you lose some," Heacock said. "There are some folks out there today who like to think they won every battle. You don't win every battle."

Heacock, the Penguins' third-year coach, and his staff spent the past few weeks mired in the intensity of recruiting season. They traveled thousands of miles to seek their desired football player.

"For three weeks, it's been non-stop," Heacock said. "We made a trip through Florida and probably covered 1,000 miles in three or four days. That's the pace we've been on, and that's what we needed to do to get it done."

Among the players who signed were area standouts Tom Zetts, a quarterback from Boardman; Tim Dewberry, a defensive back from Canfield; and Rob Massucci, a defensive back from Warren Harding.

The next quarterback?

Zetts, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound quarterback, has drawn the most attention.

He's following in the footsteps of another Boardman quarterback, Jeff Ryan, who became one of the Penguins' all-time best players. The position has been unstable since Ryan's departure after the 2001 season.

"We have our own evaluations of Tom Zetts, but when you talk to coaches who played against him, it was unanimous, 'What a player he is,' " Heacock said.

Zetts, who passed for 2,800 yards in his high school career, has the opportunity to compete for Youngstown State's starting job. However, Heacock stressed how difficult it is to put that pressure on a player this early.

"He's physically ready to play," Heacock said. "It will just be whether he can pick up the offense and do the things those guys need to do."

Defensive help

Dewberry (6-0, 195), a first-team all-district selection, was a standout running back and defensive back at Canfield, but Heacock plans to use the player's athleticism defensively.

"As we all know, defense wins championships," Heacock said. "The need to put him on defense says a lot about him -- to be a running back and then all of a sudden to play on defense."

Massucci (5-9, 170) was part of Harding's run to the state championship game last season, playing running back, defensive back and on special teams. Like Dewberry, Massucci will play in the Penguins' defensive backfield.

"He has great speed and he's a tough kid," Heacock said of Massucci, an All-Ohio sprinter on the Raiders' track team.

Heacock added that he trusts the word of Harding coach Thom McDaniels, who praised Massucci.

"Thom McDaniels has never led me astray," Heacock said.

Breakdown

Youngstown State, which went 7-4 in 2002, has targeted defensive players this recruiting season. Of the 17 players who signed Wednesday, 14 play defensively.

And there may be more. The Penguins aren't done recruiting, Heacock said. Some players may visit campus this weekend, and that list may grow.

The hopes are high as the recruiting battle between programs wages on.

"Everyone in this group wants to come play at Youngstown State," Heacock said of his signees. "To me, that's more important than who we beat or didn't beat."

richesson@vindy.com




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